Man on Fire is now eleven years old. Tony Scott’s film exemplified the director’s slick transition from corny territory (seen in Top Gun) to contemporary, stylized cinema. Edited at warp speed and finished with a visceral colour palette that perfectly sets Mexico City as a locale of danger and violence, Man on Fire stands as one of the best features from the director. Scott, you gave us cinema at it’s most energetic and visually immersive, seen prominently here. Starring Denzel Washington as Creasy, a retired CIA agent struggling with his conscience (frequent religious imagery and questions of will God forgive him are featured in the first half successfully demonstrating his guilt). Radha Mitchell and Marc Antony star as the wealthy parents of Dakota Fanning’s Pita, who is in need of protection from a group of kidnappers known for targeting families for ransom.
Scott’s feature is a film of two halves; the first full of character development and setting the stunning scene of Mexico City. The on-screen father/daughter-esque chemistry between Fanning (only ten years old at the time of filming) and Washington gives those watching a sense of warmth, and come the end the pairs friendship makes way for plenty of emotion. Its these two that carry the film (despite Fanning’s lack of scenes in the latter half) with Antony bringing little in the way of anything in his role as Pita‘s Dad. Mitchell is more impressive and has her moment to shine at several occasions. Mickey Rourke provides further support during a dive in his career, and despite his comeback not happening until several years after, his on-screen presence is clearly seen here.
Th repetition of certain images and the split in dialogue between Spanish and English propels the film into the realm of intelligent blockbuster (and these are becoming harder and harder to come by in recent years). Scott, writer Brian Helgeland and cinematographer Paul Cameron all do well in their respective roles with the latter’s eye of urban beauty deserving credit. The lack of positivity surrounding the picture is perhaps understandable if this were to be released in recent years – but eleven years ago this was pretty original fair. Today, there are tonnes of thrillers similar in genre and style being released, not quite with the same flair or courage to represent modern issues, that Man on Fire possesses.
Critical acclaim was mixed – some heralded, some frowned – but Tony Scott’s film is ferociously good-looking (juxtaposing bright lights and vibrant club scenes with blood-soaked violence) and features Washington in a role he is now seasoned at. Original, and packing a political punch, Man on Fire is one of the best (and sorely underrated) of it’s genre.